Tony Ferguson with his UFC Interim Lightweight Championship

The fight is now official for a fifth time. UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will reportedly defend his title against Tony Ferguson in the main event of UFC 249 in Brooklyn, New York on April 18.

It’s a fight that the combat sports world has wanted to see for years and hopefully, 2020 is when it finally happens. But why is the bout so intriguing in the first place?

Consider the winning streaks. “The Eagle” is 28-0 as well as 12-0 in the UFC. Ferguson, meanwhile, has won his last 12 fights and hasn’t suffered defeat since 2012. There’s also the ground aspect — Nurmagomedov dominates every opponent on the ground. However, Ferguson excels on the ground and is one of the most offensive fighters off his back with a black belt in jiujitsu.

The other reason that makes this fight so intriguing is not only the cardio of both fighters but their mentalities. Nurmagomedov has slowed down in two of his last three five-round fights. But as a whole, he was still dominant mainly due to tiring his opponents out with his wrestling and breaking them mentally.

Ferguson, on the other hand, seems to have an endless gas tank as he never gets tired. He also breaks his opponents more so than Nurmagomedov thanks in part to his volume and pressure.

And while there’s a good chance of Nurmagomedov taking “El Cucuy” down, former referee Big John McCarthy doesn’t see Ferguson getting broken.

“Khabib needs to fight a specific fight to beat Tony Ferguson,” McCarthy said on his Weighing In podcast with Josh Thomson. “And he needs to be in that mindset of ‘I will put myself in these positions that you say you’re comfortable with and I’m going to make you uncomfortable with what you think you’re comfortable with.’ That’s where I think Khabib needs to put this fight for him to grind out a fight against Tony because he is not going to physically break Tony.

“It’s not going to happen. Tony does not have that in his head. You are not going to push him past that cliff as far as exercise output in that he gets exhausted — that’s not going to happen. And you are mentally not going to break him. Khabib can talk to Tony all he wants and just realize that every word you say will be two words coming back in the opposite from Tony talking back to you. So don’t get into this whole thing of ‘I want to mentally break’ — you’re not going to do that. There are those guys. But this guy just does not break.”

Khabib Nurmagomedov of Russia takes down Conor McGregor of Ireland in their UFC lightweight championship bout during the UFC 229 event
Khabib Nurmagomedov takes down Conor McGregor in their UFC lightweight championship bout at UFC 229 (Harry How/Getty Images)

Instead, McCarthy believes Nurmagomedov should focus on putting Ferguson in positions where he can’t take damage. But it won’t be easy.

Ferguson’s length and “leverage strength” as McCarthy stated, will be a factor. But also Nurmagomedov’s tendency to rest his head in positions to be elbowed, kneed and choked according to American Kickboxing Academy teammate Thomson.

McCarthy agreed and believes that should be a big focus for the Dagestan native in his upcoming camp, especially given how Ferguson can snap up a neck with ease.

“… In this camp, Khabib has got to work on head position,” McCarthy added. “His head needs to center line and up. From that sternum to that chin, that’s where your head is at. When it starts to go either side, he’s going to have a problem.

“If he is in guard, he needs to be careful of keeping his head in that sternum. Everything is depending upon your position. But if you’re against the cage, in the standup clinch, don’t stick your head to the left or right. I want your head center line, into his chin up. Don’t give him that side to side.”

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